Tennessee’s TCAP test scores climb for second straight year after pandemic

Students write with pencils.
Tennessee students in grades 3-5 took their annual state tests on paper this year, while its older students tested online as part of the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program. (kali9 / Getty Images)

Tennessee’s third set of test scores from the pandemic era improved again across all core subjects and grades, even exceeding pre-pandemic proficiency rates in English language arts and social studies.

State-level results released Thursday showed an overall increase in proficiency since last year for public school students, and a surge since 2021, when the first test scores from the pandemic period declined dramatically across the nation.

But the performance of historically underserved students — including children with disabilities, those from low-income families, and students of color — still lags. Those groups of students, who already trailed their peers before disruptions to schooling began in 2020, also spent the longest time learning remotely during the public health emergency caused by COVID-19.

The latest scores continue the state’s upward trend of pandemic recovery, based on standardized tests under the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, also known as TCAP. 

The academic snapshot suggests that Tennessee’s early investments in summer learning camps and intensive tutoring are paying off to counter three straight years of COVID-related disruptions.

Gov. Bill Lee called the results “encouraging,” while interim Education Commissioner Sam Pearcy praised educators, students, and their families for their hard work.

“These gains signal that we’re focused on the right work to advance student learning,” Pearcy told reporters during a morning call. “And as a result of that, we know that we will all continue to keep our foot on the gas to keep this momentum rolling.”

Beginning in the third grade, Tennessee students take TCAPs in four core subjects. This year’s students exceeded pre-pandemic levels in English language arts and social studies, while improving in math and science.

As previously reported, Tennessee’s third-grade proficiency rate jumped by over 4 percentage points to more than 40% on tests given this spring. Many of the other 60% have to participate in learning intervention programs to avoid being held back a year under a new state law.

Results for historically underserved student groups reflected both good and bad news.

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The good news: Improvement for students of color, children from low-income families, those with disabilities, and those learning to speak English mostly paralleled the gains of their more affluent, white, or nondisabled peers.

The bad news: Tennessee isn’t closing those persistent gaps. Our analysis below focused on overall performance in English language arts.

The statewide data is available online by clicking “2023 State Assessment” on a new dashboard of the Tennessee Report Card.

District-level results, which are being reviewed by district leaders, are scheduled to be released in July.

And for the first time under a long-delayed change to the state’s accountability policies, this year’s TCAP results will be used to help calculate A-to-F grades this fall for Tennessee’s 1,700-plus public schools. The state has deferred the new accountability measure for five years because of testing and data disruptions, most recently caused by the pandemic.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with graphics and analysis.

Marta Aldrich is a senior correspondent and covers the statehouse for Chalkbeat Tennessee. Contact her at maldrich@chalkbeat.org.

Kae Petrin is a data and graphics reporter for Chalkbeat. Contact Kae at kpetrin@chalkbeat.org.

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